The EB-5 visa is a part of the overall Green Card spectrum for non family sponsored applications in the US which includes the EB-1 visa for Exceptional Individuals, the EB-2 and EB-3 visas for professionals generally on visas like H1B visa, E3 visa, L1 Visa, etc. and the EB-4 visa which is generally for religious practitioners. There is also the proposed EB-6 visa for Business Start-Ups but that is still pending legislation in the US Congress at this time.
The EB-5 visa was created within section 203(b)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in 1990 as a visa type for foreign investors to be able to more quickly become permanent residents of the US if they were willing to invest significant amounts of their own capital in the US economy and create employment for US workers. There are 10,000 of the visas issued each year (not including dependents) and half of those are for those that invest via a designated USCIS Regional Center in a given US state. These Regional Centers advertise heavily encouraging foreigners to pick them as their mode of investment and thus need to be viewed and assessed with care and caution as there are no guarantees.
The investor and their dependents receive a conditional 2 year green card that is made permanent following a petition to the USCIS slightly before the 2 year expiry confirming that both an investment has been made and that at least 10 local jobs have been created as a result of the Investment. After a further 5 years and after the other relevant criteria are met, the investor and the dependents can also apply for US Citizenship.
The application process can take up to one year but a typical processing time is more likely 3-6 months. If a member of the family is already in the US under another non-immigrant visa, they are able to transfer to the EB-5 within the US by filing the appropriate adjustment of status application, form I-129, with the USCIS.
Another positive of this type of as far as the dependents are concerned compared to other US non-immigrant visas is that children who are aged under 21 and single who come to the US have their age effectively frozen to their age at the time of application. This means if they go past 21 while still under conditional status, they wont be aged out and forced to leave the US or find their own visa category to fit under. This differs from how the dependent visas work on all the non-immigrant visas.
There are no education, language or business requirements for the applicants. They must pass a mental and physical health check, criminal check and prove that they acquired the funds invested by legal means and have paid all appropriate taxes on those funds. If you have been denied for other US visas in the past you can still apply for the EB-5 visa.
Direct Investment vs. Regional Centers/Qualified Investments
The first fundamental difference is the minimum amount of capital that needs to be committed to the application. If you are just making a general investment, then at least 1 million dollars is required whereas if you invest via a regional center or certain specified investments, the minimum is half as much at $500,000.
The reason why regional centers and qualified investments exist is that they tend to be in areas of high unemployment and lesser economic activity and thus the US Goverment want to attract capital and jobs to those areas and thus the more generous terms. The regions selected are rural, cannot have a population greater than 20,000, or have an unemployment rate that is at least 1.5 times higher than the national average. However the requirement to create at least 10 jobs still applies for this investment as well. For a full list of accredited regional centers around the US click the link specified.
If making a general investment a full business plan needs to be approved by the USCIS whereas with the approved Regional Center projects, this requirement is already satisfied. Also the requirement of creating 10 jobs is a little more lax in that both direct (IT Infrastructure person) and indirect (supplier of IT products) can be counted towards the 10 jobs created minimum requirement.
The investor in the regional projects also do not have to take an everyday role in managing the funds and can work together with other investors. Finally and this is often a big plus given the locations of many of these projects, the investor and their family may live and work anywhere in the US and this does not have to be where the project is situated.
However for most people it should be noted that because we are talking about large sums of money, there is no guarantee of profit or success with either a direct or regional center project. So the fact that you will have created 10 jobs or indeed make your money back and more is not a given so taking a greater interest in the project may be to your benefit.
There is no official USCIS database on the success of the various Regional Centers and they are in of themselves profit making business ventures for the most part. So while they are US Government accredited, that does not mean success automatically as they also have thier own interests to suffice first. You should do plenty of homework if you decide to use this vehicle.
If you choose the direct route, then assuming accessing $1M in capital is no issue for you, then you should certainly consult legal counsel and US business experts so your application, business plan, etc. is in perfect order so you will successfully get the EB-5 visa.